Palermo is a little rough around the edges but its narrow, shadow-ravined streets create an artichoke, each bract peeling away to reveal so many golden hearts. Yes, it is dusty, yes it is noisy and crowded, yes, the sun only reaches through the stone and mortar to bake the ground at midday but this place has character, has splendour, has a huge, strong pulse that sucks you in to appreciate a gallery of fading old masterpieces.
This Palermo reflects the main events of centuries of European history since biblical times, painted in its own hues and colours and boasting of its importance and influence.
The size and scale of the place is overwhelming. 4/5/6 storied buildings line every main street that crisscross the city. All are decorated in carvings of plaques or shields or plinthed statues or groping vines, plants, fluer-de-lys and tower above the pedestrianised routes, towering up to lord their power and position over the rest of us mere mortals.
Filling in between the axis of roads is a tangle of cobbled alleys and streets that have for centuries jumbled up together in a hotch potch of cultural, economic and religious communities. Around sharp corners and through carriage-sized gateways, piazzas, courtyards and squares reveal churches and cathedrals, palaces, mansions, galleries.
These contrast with the Old Town where, with outstretched arms, you can almost run your fingers along rough plastered, walls and lurch through the pot-holes and broken surfaces between narrow tenements. The graffiti is charming and informative and adds even more character to everyday life.
In these communities the piazzas are more like open parks with local bars and pizzerias around the edges where locals spend their time in the cool of the day doing their own thing.